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An Old Dutchman Teaches Me Work Ethic

Being from a well-to-do family didn't excuse me from work in the summer. My Dad, raised during the Great Depression, realized the benefits and discipline of hard work. He didn't want me to grow up soft.

When I was sixteen, he sent me to work with Martin Brock, a sixty-something farmer. It was early June in central Minnesota. Martin contracted himself out to my Dad to clear some land for him, for a golf course Dad was constructing.

It was a sweltering day when I reported to work in blue jeans, worker boots and a t-shirt. Martin, dressed in dark green, bib overalls, seemed nonchalant about the sweat dripping from his forehead. He removed a greasy looking green baseball cap and wiped his forehead and flipped it back on his bald head.

He stood all of 5'4" in height and probably weighed 140 lbs. wringing wet. He emitted a knarly look. In a broken Dutch accent he said: "Ve vork hard, ve take 15 minute breaks twice a day, one at ten, one at three. Ve eat lunch in thirty minutes. Din ve vork hard some more. Grab that ax and follow me."

He did a whirlygig and before I could reach the ax, near a tree stump, Martin was in the woods. I followed the thump, thumping sounds of chopping. When I reached him, he said: "Like theese." He grabbed a young sumac tree with his strong left hand and with one powerful blow, chopped it near the root with his right. He tossed the tree aside.

Then he moved to another and repeated the routine. And again and again. I probably stood there a half a minute, watching him in awe. He moved quickly, yet gracefully. He was wiry but muscular.

Suddenly he stopped and turned to gaze at me. "Vy you not vorking? VORK!" Immediately he re-turned to his chronic motion of chopping.

Two hours later, completely exhausted, I slumped to the ground. I remember thinking: "thank God it's ten a.m." Martin, sat on a log near me, sipping black, hot coffee from the metal cap to his Thermos.

He stared at me, then winked. "I thought you were strong football player. You not in good shape at all. I'm old man, vy you not keep up vid me?" I didn't reply, just shook my head, wondering if I could make it until noon.

Well, I made it till noon and the end of the day. Martin got me in shape and when I returned to school that fall, I was tough as nails. NO! Make that: as tough as Martin. That was the most difficult and yet the greatest summer of my life.

I learned from Martin, not only the value of hard work in teaching responsibility, accountability and commitment, I also learned the good feeling of accomplishment and healthy self-esteem, that hard work delivers.

I remember a line in the movie Platoon. One of the soldiers says: "after this, it's all gravy." That's how I felt after spending 90 sweltering days under the example of Martin Brock. I'm now 59 years old. I've never been exposed to work as hard as that summer back in 1961. Since that day, everything was "gravy."

I think of Martin often, if he were alive today, he'd be over 101. I wouldn't put it past him to be alive and chopping wood. What a man! And what an example. I'm grateful to two peple for that summer job: Martin for his tireless example of leadership and my Dad for having the wisdom to teach me one of my greatest life lessons. (c)
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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